Depression manifests itself in different people in different ways. But I think many of us do have symptoms and behaviours in common. In this blog, I’m going to tell you what it’s like for me, and in the next blog I’ll tell you more about how I have learned to deal with it. But like all good suspense stories, you’ll have to wait for that part.
Grey is how I feel. I’m told that this is depression. Like all the colour has been sapped out of me and lies in a puddle on the floor at my feet. There is no joy. Not even the appearance of a new book, or lovely comments from fans can touch it. Mornings are often grey, but by 11.00 I’m usually ok. But if life is stressful, the grey can last for days.
I sleep. A lot. Many people with depression find it hard to sleep. I am the opposite. I think my brain just decides to shut down when things get too difficult for it to manage. I speak of my brain as a separate entity to myself. That is because I am in control of myself, but my brain has a mind of it’s own. So maybe two or three days a month, I will just sleep. Sometimes for as much as five hours in the day, and then all night as well. As a minimum I will sleep for two hours in an afternoon on off days.
“They” say that too much sleep is bad for you, and that’s true, by definition. “Too much” of anything is bad for you, otherwise it wouldn’t be too much! But this is not a lazy slumber. It is not an indulgent lie-in. It’s an overwhelming drowsiness that takes over and knocks me out. For me, the key to deciding whether I needed the sleep or not, is whether I feel better afterwards. Sleeping when you don’t need it invariably makes you feel groggy and fuggy. The type of sleep I’m talking about is restorative. It usually enables me to reset my mood and helps me get things into perspective. Also, if I sleep soundly the following night, I know I was right to have a nap.
The trouble is, at the time I’m feeling drowsy, exhausted or fuggled, I find it very difficult to decide whether I really need the sleep. Sometimes a walk or going shopping will be enough to shake the fuzz and get me going. So when I’m feeling particularly tired in the morning, I try to propel myself out. If after an hour walking I still feel exhausted, I go to bed.
I have spent a lot of time over the years feeling hugely frustrated that I am wasting my life sleeping. But these days I just let it happen and decide after the event whether it was helpful or not. Usually it was.
I am told that decision-making can be difficult when depression strikes. And for me this is definitely true. I often find myself standing in the kitchen, head in my hands for minutes on end, because I can’t decide where to take the dog for a walk. I know rationally that it doesn’t matter at all where I go, as long as I go. But my brain has other ideas. It starts to argue:
You must go for a walk
But I’m tired
I’m bored of the same old route
Well go on a different one then
But where? What if it rains?
I mentally travel round the countryside within 15 minutes’ drive and try to visualise myself on each walk. Then reject all of them because they are too far away, or that I’ll have to then bring the dog back home which is double the driving and a waste of precious time and petrol.
My mind moves from one possible course of action to another, and all the while thinking
about all the jobs I have to do in the day, or all the jobs I should do, and which is the most efficient order to do them in and I berate myself for wasting time and get frustrated with myself for being so stupid. I stand in the kitchen. Head in my hands. Anxiety building over what I know is really a simple decision and if I’d just gone out without thinking, I’d be halfway home by now. And then it starts all over again.
So just GO
But… And round and round and round I go. Stuck in a mental loop, my feet glued to the kitchen floor
Sometimes I give up and go to bed, knowing this is counter-productive and that it’s wasting even more time. But on the better days, I grab myself by the scruff of the neck and throw myself out of the door. Once I’m out, and 10 yards down the road, I’m usually fine. It’s just getting out that’s the problem.
I think this tendency is a mixture of depression and anxiety. The depression part is the inability to decide/ commit/ concentrate. The anxiety part involves worrying about my inability to decide / commit / concentrate and the possible consequences of this, such as wasting time, making things worse, giving in, feeling weak or stupid, not getting things done. When they work together, depression and anxiety can really make a mess.
Shouting, screaming and slamming doors.
Before I was on medication, I used to get unbelievably and irrationally angry about the tiniest things. A comment from a child or husband would send me into a door-slamming, head- banging rage, followed by frustrated tears and feelings of self-loathing. Why couldn’t I control myself? Why did I fly off the handle? I was making the situation ten times worse and making everyone feel horrible. When I take my medication, my anger is much more under control. That is, when I take it. And I usually do. But not always.
If I don’t take my medication for a couple of days, I start to cry. I weep over the tiniest things and find it almost impossible to stop. I WANT to feel wretched. I DESERVE it. That’s what my brain tells me. When the tears start, that’s when I get strict with myself and tell myself to take the pills. They help enormously. But if life is emotionally stressful, sometimes I get onto crying even when I do take my tablets.
The desire to run and hide
I think this is more to do with anxiety than depression. After all, that’s kind of what anxiety is for. It’s there to keep us safe from potential dangers around us. If we see a Tyrannosaurus Rex running towards us, we’ll feel a lurch our stomachs and our breathing will get faster, our hearts will beat and our legs will be running before we’ve even had time to think about it. We are filled with a surge of adrenaline, which at times could be life-saving. Even the thought of being chased by a T-Rex or a picture of one can bring on this response if we have had a previous near-death prehistoric encounter.
Luckily, life these days is pretty devoid of T-Rexs. Or any other major predator for that matter, for those of us lucky enough to live in the gentile and sedate English countryside. People living in any of the war-ravaged parts of our world are not so lucky. Their anxieties probably save their lives every day, but a huge cost to their future mental health.
Even so, my anxiety is still alive and kicking and if I feel I’m under threat in any shape or form, for example from a heated discussion or a misplaced word, my brain and my body tell me to run. Or hide. Or both. Controlling these urges can be very difficult at times and can result in internalising the stress, which can lead to self destructive behaviour. So why not just run, until I feel better? Well, because I have children that I don’t want to upset. I have a husband I don’t want to upset. I have a rationality and societal expectations that tell me running is not an acceptable behaviour. But sometimes I do run. Sometimes I hide too, when it all gets to much.
Self-destructive thoughts and behaviour
I get very, very frustrated with myself. Frustrated when I can’t just get on with things. Frustrated when I’m wasting time. Frustrated when I over-react. Frustrated when I hurt the people I love.
And I take that frustration out on myself. After all, I’m the cause if it.
I won’t go into details here on the nature of those thoughts and behaviours, partly because they may be triggering to others, and partly because I actually don’t want you to know. These days it is mostly only thoughts. I’ve had a lot of therapy. Remind me to talk to you sometime about a model of “distress tolerance” I learned about on a course. It’s helped me enormously.
Self medication and impulsive behaviour
Alcohol. Hmm. It’s a difficult one. On the one hand, it does help me to chill out. But on the other hand it can make me angry and impulsive. If I could just stop at one glass I think it would be fine. But after one, I inevitably reach for another. It’s a self-destructive thing actually, if I’m honest.
Luckily after three glasses, I usually fall asleep so I think my liver will survive another year or two.
So yeah. That’s what depression is like for me. Mostly you don’t see it and that’s the way I want it. Because I don’t want to have to deal with other people’s reactions to it. Like many people with depression, I hide it well.